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(Stock image for illustration purposes) In the Digital Age, things can go viral and blow out of proportion in a matter of seconds.

MALAYSIA may steadily be edging forward into the digital future, but the same cannot be said about the manners and general attitudes of some citizens.

Many demand freedom of speech without having the behavioural sophistication, and most importantly, useful content, to warrant it.

Time and again, we come across online comments which are deemed provocative, controversial and hurtful, which do not offer anything good, only creating tension and ill-feelings among citizens, more so in a plural society such as ours.

The recent case where three people were arrested for allegedly insulting the royal institution on social media is a good case in point.

A comment on Facebook by one of them had sparked a lot of anger among social media users, who called for his employer to terminate him and for legal action to be taken against him.

After posting an apology on his profile, he was fired by his company. His Facebook account is believed to have since been deactivated.

Now, let me start by saying that there is nothing wrong with freedom of speech in and of itself. The problem is really in the disrespect and lack of civility among Netizens when expressing themselves on social media.

In expressing our personal contempt for a person, situation or an otherly ideology online, we often forget that what we put out on the Internet can last forever.

In the Digital Age, where things can go viral and be blown out of proportion in a matter of seconds, the delete button is useless in avoiding potentially lifelong embarrassment.

The immediate discharge is proof that our digital comments of others can come back to haunt us.The man’s rude comment, for one, did not only cost him his job but also tarnished his reputation.

Now, it must also be said that online slandering is not only a matter of unethical behaviour, but also a source of danger in a plural society such as ours.

Time and time again, we would read news on suicides caused by cyberbullying on social media.One need only revisit the heartbreaking story of a student in Penang, who had jumped to his death from the roof of a flat back in May 2017.

It was initially suggested that he was having high stress from studying, but further investigations would later reveal that he was a victim of intense cyberbullying.

After emotionally succumbing to anonymous taunts on social media, the poor guy left a haunting final note on his page, that said: “Burn me to ashes, release me by the sea, no tombstones, no funeral, goodbye.” How sad.

Just how many more lives would it take before we realise that our negative words that often seem petty to us can deeply violate, hurt, and damage other people?

To commit online slander, especially in a public setting such as the Internet, is to intentionally promote shaming and the act of hurting others.

There is no bypassing this fact.And if we think that we can get away with shaming someone else online, we need to think again.

By putting ourselves in the position of triggering others, we risk exposing ourselves to dangers such as retaliations that could very well end up physical — and fatal.

Triggered enough, those whose feelings you hurt could want to get back to you to justify the emotional pain you have caused.

It was reported last year that stabbings, among other violent attacks, are on the rise among youths in London due in part to heated social media feuds and scuffles.

It does not take a genius to suspect that the same could well happen in Malaysia in the future, with our overall access to the Internet sitting at 85.7 per cent, and the fact that people are so comfortable hiding behind the anonymity that the Internet provides to post comments without giving due thought to it.

At the end of the day, self-awareness is really the way to go and in moving forward.

It is high time we start thinking about why we want to say the things we say, before saying them at all.

Practising self-censorship in the online public sphere, is a sure way of getting you out of trouble, and also others.

Ahmad Kushairi is News Editor (Weekend/Probe/Special Report) New Straits Times

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